Veterans Pension Benefit: What it is and how to get it

On Memorial Day, we honor those who gave their lives for our country, and we also recognize the service of millions of current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans are entitled to certain benefits as a result of their having served, including healthcare, education, home loans, insurance, and employment services.

One little-known benefit for veterans focuses on those former servicemembers who face financial hardship. The Veterans Pension Benefit provides modest amounts of regular monthly income for veterans who qualify, and it can make a big difference for those who are struggling to make ends meet.

Who's eligible for the Veterans Pension Benefit?

The Veterans Pension Benefit is intended to help veterans and their families deal with financial difficulties. In order to qualify, a veteran usually needs to have served for at least 90 days in active duty status. Those who first entered active duty in September 1980 or later have a longer active duty requirement, as they must typically have served at least 24 months or the full period for which the service member was called or ordered to active duty.

In both cases, the veteran must have served at least one day during a wartime period. Those periods include the Gulf War, which began in August 1990 and hasn't yet had an ending date set, as well as Vietnam, Korea, and World Wars I and II.

In order to qualify for the Veterans Pension Benefit, you must generally be age 65 or older. Exceptions for younger veterans exist if you're totally and permanently disabled, receiving skilled nursing care in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility, or receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income through the Social Security Administration.

How much is the Veterans Pension Benefit?

Calculating the Veterans Pension Benefit is fairly complicated, because the laws that govern the benefit establish annual maximum amounts and then require you to offset any financial resources you have against it. In particular, your pension benefit will generally be equal to the annual pension limit that Congress sets and the amount of income that gets counted against that limit.

The maximum annual pension amount is determined according to which of several categories you fall into. The table below gives the maximums and the categories effective as of Dec. 1, 2017.

In addition, those who served in World War I or the Mexican Border period in the 1910s are entitled to an additional $2,991 in income. You should also add $2,250 for each additional child.

Once you've determined the appropriate maximum benefit, you then need to come up with your countable income. This figure includes income from most sources, including work earnings, disability and retirement payments, investment income, and money you make from a farm or business. The amount of your pension will generally be the maximum benefit minus your countable income. So if you have no spouse or child and have $10,000 in income, then your pension would be $13,166 minus $10,000 or $3,166 per year, paid in 12 monthly installments.

You're allowed in some cases to offset unreimbursed medical expenses against your countable income in order to raise the amount of your Veterans Pension. In order to be deducted, unreimbursed medical expenses must exceed 5% of the pension rate in the table above.

Will outside assets take away my Veterans Pension?

There's also an asset test that prevents those who have ample financial resources from taking advantage of the Veterans Pension program. In general, if the Veterans Administration determines that you could live off money in bank accounts or proceeds from stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities, and any property other than your personal residence, then it can deny benefits. There's no hard-and-fast rule for how much of a net worth is too high, and there's substantial discretion given to the administrative personnel at the VA in making the final determination.

How do I apply for my Veterans Pension?

To apply, you can go to the VA's online application here. Alternatively, you can complete VA Form 21P-527EZ and either mail it to the pension management center that serves veterans in the state where you live, or you can visit your local regional benefit office in person to turn in your application. For details on where the nearest office is, you can use the VA's facility locator, accessible on the VA website for pension benefits.

Get the benefits you deserve

If you've served in the military, you've earned the respect and recognition that Americans give you on Memorial Day. Learning about the Veterans Pension Benefit and other benefits available to servicemembers is important in order to allow the country to recognize your service with honor and dignity.

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